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Three Serie A matches suspended due to virus deaths in Italy

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ROME — Three Serie A soccer matches scheduled for Sunday in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto were suspended late Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China.

On orders from the Italian government, the games called off were: Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria, Atalanta vs. Sassuolo and Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari.

Three other matches in Genoa, Turin and Rome on Sunday are going ahead as scheduled.

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A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown on Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus from China, and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.

“The government is working on urgent measures to decisively confront and contain the cases of coronavirus contagion,” read a letter from Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora to Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago shortly before midnight local time on Saturday. “Those measures also include the sports world in order to prevent risks and to better take care of the health of those involved in the events and competition.

“Following measures taken by the cabinet for protective reasons and maximum precaution, on orders of the government I’m asking you to suspend all sports events of every level and discipline planned for the Lombardy and Veneto regions on Sunday.”

The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses.

The mayor of Milan, Italy’s business capital and the regional capital of Lombardy, shuttered public offices.

A 78-year-old man infected with the virus died in Veneto. A postmortem on a 77-year-old woman in Lombardy came back positive, though it wasn’t clear if illness from the virus caused her death.

Cristiano Ronaldo makes Juventus history, closes in on Serie A record (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first player in Juventus history to score in 10 consecutive Serie A matches.

Ronaldo, who celebrated his 35th birthday midweek, started an electric run from the centerline before finishing in elegant fashion in the 65th minute against Hellas Verona on Saturday. The Portuguese surpasses David Trezeguet’s goalscoring record of goals in nine consecutive matches set in 2005.

The goal also marked Ronaldo’s 20th Serie A goal of the season in the same number of appearances. It’s the Portuguese’s 11th season in a row with at least 20 goals.

Despite his goal, Hellas Verona pulled off a stunning upset, edging Juventus 2-1 with a 86th minute penalty from Giampaolo Pazzini.

Ronaldo, who revealed midweek that growing up he envisioned himself being a “fisherman in Madeira (Portugal)” at the age of 35, can make history in his next Serie A bout. If he were to score against Brescia, Ronaldo would tie Gabriel Bautista’s and Fabio Quagriella’s scoring streak record of goals in 11 consecutive Serie A appearances.

Daniel Maldini extends family dynasty at AC Milan

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Daniel Maldini made his first-team debut for AC Milan on Sunday, extending a family dynasty with the club.

The 18-year-old Maldini was brought on in stoppage time during Milan’s 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona in Serie A.

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Grandfather Cesare and father Paolo were both Milan captains. However, unlike Cesare and Paolo – who were both defenders – Daniel is a midfielder.

“The debut was a goal that I had set,” Daniel, who wore the No. 98 shirt, told Milan’s TV channel. “Now let’s hope we can continue it.”

While Cesare died in 2016, Paolo Maldini is Milan’s current technical director.

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Born in 2001, Daniel became the first player born in his millennium to play in the top division for Milan.

Inter fights back to beat Verona 2-1 and move top of Serie A

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MILAN (AP) Nicolo Barella scored his first league goal for Inter Milan to help the Nerazzurri come from behind to beat Hellas Verona 2-1 and move top of Serie A on Saturday.

Barella struck a stunning winner seven minutes from time after Matias Vecino had cancelled out Valerio Verre’s penalty for Verona.

Inter moved two points above eight-time defending champion Juventus, which hosts AC Milan on Sunday.

Verona remained ninth ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

Inter was in need of a boost after letting slip a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.

But it went behind in the 19th minute when goalkeeper Samir Handanovic tripped Mattia Zaccagni and Verre drilled the resulting spot kick powerfully down the middle.

Along with Juventus, Verona had the best defensive record heading into the weekend and Inter struggled to break the visitors down.

But it laid siege to the Verona goal and it eventually paid off in the 63rd minute when Vecino headed in Valentino Lazaro’s cross.

And Inter snatched all three points when Barella cut inside from the left and curled an unstoppable strike into the top corner.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Balotelli responds to Hellas Verona ultras after racist chanting

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Mario Balotelli has responded to Hellas Verona ultras on social media after enduring yet another spell of racist chanting in Serie A play.

The Brescia striker booted the ball into the stands and was visibly upset after fans racially abused him in the 2-1 defeat to Verona at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. It appeared that Balotelli initially wished to walk off the pitch before players seemed to console him during the ensuing stoppage of play.

Luca Castellini, leader of the Hellas Verona ultras who were accused of the abuse, issued a disgusting statement via local radio that contradicted itself on numerous occasions, called Balotelli a “clown” and claims he is not fully Italian, played the abuse off as without “political or racist intentions,” and said the chants were “voices in [Balotelli’s] own head.” Verona president Maurizio Setti also refused to condemn the fans, saying the crowd was “light-hearted, not racist” and had “real sport in its DNA.”

Balotelli has since responded to Castellini’s words on Instagram, where he took to thank his teammates and supporters, who he said “you have proven to be true men, unlike those who deny the evidence.”

He then used his Instagram Story to provide further commentary, including a fan video of the incident where monkey chanting can be heard just before Balotelli kicks the ball into the stands. Balotelli himself writes, “Here, my friends, this has nothing to do with football anymore. You are implying about a social and historical situation much bigger than you small-minded people. You guys are losing it. Wake up, you ignorant people.” To the claims that he is not Italian, he wrote, “But when Mario scored and still guarantees to score goals for Italy, you were fine with it?” He states, “these ‘people’ must be cast out by society, not just by football.”

He finished off his posts with, “Just leave it alone. Enough. Enough.”

Balotelli scored in the loss – his second goal of the Serie A season – in the defeat to Hellas Verona, although the club was unable to snap its six-match winless run.